We have hedged too much and too long on the fact, perhaps not wanting to believe it possible, perhaps holding out in hope for some goodwill: Trump is racist and xenophobic.
We have also hedged too much and too long on the other problem, again perhaps not wanting to believe it possible, perhaps holding out in hope for some goodwill: many of Trump’s followers, especially among his most enthusiastic base, are racist and xenophobic too.
I’m not only talking here about the casual, so-called everyday racism systemically worked into the fabric of American social life and our individual psyches. That’s there too—has been there all along—since it forms the core of our founding mythology and reigning ideologies. I’m talking more about the open, in-your-face racism, the blatant xenophobia—the kind that leads to the lynching tree, the type that murders George Floyd on behalf of the state. It’s the type of racism that, when looking at protests against it, focuses more on a few broken windows than dead black bodies.
That sort of racism never really went away, which is the point of the protests. But it has, it seems, been more open as of late, even at a general level, in the white backlash to Obama’s presidency led by Trump. As Tressie McMillan Cotton puts it when discussing that backlash, “whiteness defends itself. Against change, against progress, against hope, against black dignity, against black lives, against reason, against facts, against native claims, against its own laws and customs."
All of that is bad enough. All of that calls for protests, for direct action—for the end of white supremacy. But Trump has now used the protests against police violence, against the racist bent of that violence, to assert his own fascist tendencies. Those, again, have always been there in his strong-man, nativist rhetoric. Now, however, he has the opportunity to assert that will, with a large contingent of popular and political support. He has his justification to impose his police state, his fascist state.
Unless he’s stopped, of course, which is why we must support the protests against police violence, the protests for black lives. We cannot simply rely on electoral politics, because those politics play out on a different terrain. Because of how these protests have been framed by Trump himself, the protests are now also about him, about his desire for unilateral power and control, as seen in his threats and use of military force.
To protest Trump is thus to be anti-fascist, and so we must all be anti-fascist. The time to do so is now, because the type of politics that Trump is now playing doesn’t allow for waiting, reasoned discourses, or checks and balances. It requires organized, mass dissent.
Hollis Phelps is an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at Mercer University. He is the author most recently of Jesus and the Politics of Mammon.
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